(From For the Record, March 3, 1998): Rank incorrect: State Rep. Mark Sterk, R-Spokane, is a sergeant for the Spokane Police Department. His rank was incorrectly reported in a Saturday article about his work in the Legislature.
Like a blackjack dealer tossing out cards, Rep. Mark Sterk has thrown support behind everything from arming corrections officers to eliminating state contracts with a work-release center.
As notches on the Valley Republican’s legislative belt, the proposals have often been duds. But as hot-button issues, the lawmaker who plans to resign next month to run for Spokane County sheriff may have hit the jackpot.
Sterk’s time in Olympia has left many who aren’t currently his constituents hoping they will be after November.
“For this man to care so much, I’m not only going to vote for him, I’m going to help him run,” said Patty Marinos, who backed Sterk’s fight against a Spokane work-release company.
Political foes suggest Sterk is using his House post to shore up votes for the sheriff’s race, paying cursory attention to matters concerning the Spokane Valley, his home district.
Sterk and his supporters insist he’s acting in the Valley’s best interest, and completely in character for a Spokane cop who sits on the Law and Justice Committee.
Sterk’s bill to end state contracting with Second Chance, a company that runs a work-release center in the Brownstone Building in downtown Spokane, came after neighbors called him to complain, he said.
While that proposal died in committee, it made a Sterk fan out of Marinos, the owner of Dynamic Christian Academy, who opposed the center.
“He could have very easily let this last legislative session go,” Marinos said in an interview earlier this month. “He really did not have to go out there on a limb for this.”
Sterk had a similar effect on Scott Hepler, a community corrections officer and local representative for the Washington Federation of State Employees.
Since his appointment to the Legislature in 1995, Sterk has been such an advocate for corrections officers that Hepler successfully urged his organization to take an unusual step - endorse a Republican in a local race.
Sterk proposed legislation allowing them to carry guns rather than just mace. That measure failed, but the matter is now being considered by department officials.
Crime-related legislation isn’t all Sterk does. He helped push a ban on so-called partial-birth abortions through the House and signed on to reading-improvement bills and transportation measures.
But criminal justice is clearly his focus. In the 1997-98 biennium, Sterk was prime sponsor of 20 bills, 17 of which were related to criminal justice. He was a secondary sponsor for dozens more crime-related bills.
“Because of what I do, that’s what my expertise is,” the Spokane police lieutenant said. “I’m a cop.”
Sterk proposed laws this year to protect law enforcement officers’ personnel files; provide cities and counties with more state money for lengthy criminal investigations; and ease processing of traffic citations.
One Sterk bill would even add a state-funded administrative position to any sheriff’s department involved in community-oriented policing. That would include Spokane County.
Sterk’s track record comes in a year when lawmakers were passing so many crime-related bills that officers from around the state asked them to stop. One of the bills they criticized came from Sterk, proposing to make it illegal for convicted sex offenders to live within a mile of a school.
Authorities in Thurston County calculated that the law would have prohibited offenders from living in all but one town in the county.
Rep. Ida Ballasiotes, R-Mercer Island, and chairwoman of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, attributed some of the overload to it being an election year.
“I don’t know that there’s any way to get around that,” she said.
But she insisted Sterk was generally even more “thoughtful” and restrained than fellow committee members.
Still, Sterk’s political opponents view his efforts cynically.
“It’s a great platform,” said Sally Jackson, 4th District Democratic chairwoman. “He’ll say ‘I’ve done all these things in Olympia so I’ll make a great sheriff.’ You’d do it, and I’d do it.”
Supporters, however, say Sterk was first appointed, then later elected, because of his background.
“If you look at the surveys, crime has been one of the very top issues,” said Laurel Durkee, a Valley GOP leader.
For his part, Sterk pointed to endorsements from several statewide law enforcement organizations, many of whom endorsed him in a 1994 campaign for sheriff - before he was a legislator.
Attempts to reach Sterk’s opponent, Democrat and Sheriff’s Lt. Jim Finke, were unsuccessful. He’s training at the FBI academy in Quantico, Va.
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